Organized Complexity: The Novel and the City

Organized Complexity: The Novel and the City

Garth Risk Hallberg will explore the affinities between the modern social novel and the modern city. From Dickens’s London to Richard Wright’s Chicago, from the Paris of Les Misérables to the Boston of The Bostonians, the two have developed in parallel. But for a novelist, the relationship goes deeper than content. 

Borrowing from the work of Jane Jacobs and other systems-minded theorists integral to the writing of City on Fire (Knopf, 2015), Hallberg will explore some principles that link the multipolar city and the multicharacter novel and suggest how each might provide not just what you need to live, but what makes the living worth doing in the first place.

City on Fire, Hallberg’s best-selling first novel, was named a best book of 2015 by the Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, the San Francisco Chronicle, the Wall Street Journal, Vogue, and the Washington Post and has been translated into 17 languages. 

Following his lecture, Hallberg will participate in a conversation with the novelist Claire Messud RI '05, a senior lecturer on fiction at Harvard University. Messud’s books include The Woman Upstairs (Knopf, 2013), The Emperor’s Children (Knopf, 2006), The Hunters (Harcourt, 2001), The Last Life (Harcourt, 1999), and When the World Was Steady (Granta Books, 1995). 

The discussion will be moderated by Lizabeth Cohen, dean of the Radcliffe Institute and the Howard Mumford Jones Professor of American Studies, a 20th-century urban historian whose book, Making a New Deal: Industrial Workers in Chicago, 1919–1939 (Cambridge University Press, 1990), won the Bancroft Prize in American History.

Free and open to the public.

This is a 2016–2017 Kim and Judy Davis Dean’s Lecture.